AsianScientist (Jul. 2, 2021) – Between discovering a new human species that could have crossed paths with our ancestors, uncovering ancient giant rhinos and developing a novel method to harness excess WiFi signals—Asia’s best and brightest continue to make significant advances that challenge our perceptions of our world as we know it.
This month, traverse the timeline of evolutionary history to get to know a distant relative, meet a new dinosaur and find out when and how giant rhinos crossed Asia; then fast forward to the present to find out how data-driven climate change research and eradicating diseases like dengue can help secure a better future.
To catch you up on the latest scientific discoveries from Asia, here are some of our highlights from June 2021.
- Dragon Man Discovery Rewrites Evolutionary History
In the 1930s, a laborer discovered a peculiar skull while constructing a bridge in Harbin, China. To protect his prize, he wrapped it and hid it in an abandoned well for 90 years before revealing the secret to his grandchildren on his deathbed.
Incredibly, the skull belonged to a new human species dubbed the ‘Dragon Man’, or Homo longi—a species likely more closely related to modern humans than Neanderthals. According to researchers from China, the fossil dates to at least 145,000 years ago, meaning that H. longi could have met our H. sapiens ancestors and shaped our evolution in ways we have yet to discover.
- Unearthing The Truth About Ancient Animals
Previously found in South America, Africa and Europe, researchers from Russia and the US have found a new long-necked, long-tailed species of dinosaur called Dzharatitanis kingi that likely lived in Asia. Discovered in Uzbekistan, D. kingi has distinct tails that lack a ridge towards the rear end and air spaces on a part called the neural arch.
Elsewhere, scientists have found the remains of an ancient species of giant rhino that roamed northwestern China 26.5 million years ago. These ancient rhinos, known as paraceratheres, stand over seven meters tall, weigh four times as much as African elephants and are likely one of the largest land mammals to have lived. Together, these discoveries give us a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of creatures that walked the Earth eons before us.
- How Wolbachia Stops Dengue In Its Tracks
Scientists from Indonesia have found that infecting Aedes aegypti mosquitos with a virus-blocking microbe called Wolbachia can protect them—and us—against dengue. As a virus, dengue cannot reproduce on its own and needs carriers like A. aegypti to spread.
By loading these mosquitos with Wolbachia instead, the dengue virus has no room to infect and spread. Because Wolbachia spreads easily throughout mosquito populations, local insects should become dengue-free within a matter of months.
Researchers confirmed their hypothesis by placing containers of Wolbachia-carrying mosquito eggs in selected areas in Yogyakarta. Over seven months, the dengue cases in treated clusters dropped by 77 percent, with dengue-related hospitalizations dropping by a staggering 86 percent.
- The Data Driving Climate Change Research
As climate change continues to impact agricultural conditions in Asia and threaten critical food supplies like rice, researchers are racing to develop more durable breeds. To achieve this, an international team analyzed 672 local rice genomes from Vietnam. In the process, they discovered a breed known as I5 Indica that can be used to design a new generation of rice that requires less resources and offers enhanced nutritional content.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia, researchers have confirmed that robust analyses of climate change must include human behavior. After collecting data on fisher households in Cambodia over three years, they found that people fished less often during warmer seasons, but catch rates remained the same.
Without considering the fishers’ behavior, it’s easy to assume that temperature had no impact on fish catch—when in reality, the ecosystem was more productive on warmer days. Such insights are poised to change the game when it comes to climate change analysis and research.
- Charging Tiny Electronics With WiFi
WiFi is an important part of our daily lives, but what happens to excess signals when they aren’t being used? To make the most of our WiFi, researchers from Singapore and Japan have developed a method to harness excess signals and convert them into energy that can be used to power small electrical devices.
The team’s method relies on tiny devices called spin-torque oscillators, which generate and detect microwaves. By arranging eight oscillators in a series, they converted the 2.4 GHz WiFi signal into direct voltage capable of charging a capacitor. Even after the WiFi was switched off, the capacitor could power a 1.6-volt LED for roughly a minute. Ultimately, the team hopes their method could lay the foundation for self-sustaining smart systems.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Illustration: Alexandra Valino/Asian Scientist.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.
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